Saturday, November 8, 2008

Offseason Outlook: The Bullpen

I apologize for the short hiatus, life's been pretty hectic... back to something you care about: the Brewers Bullpen. 

The bullpen seems poised to go through a complete makeover as it did in the 2008 season. With Torres retiring and the unlikely returns of Eric Gagne and Guillermo Mota, the Brewers have some key roles to replace for the next year. First I will mention a little about our returning players. David Riske looks to rebound from a disappointing inaugural season with the Brewers. After signing a 3 year, $12 million deal last offseason, Riske started strong then battled injuries and inconsistency for the remainder of the season. Seth McClung and Carlos Villanueva were big parts of the bullpen last year, becoming two of the most reliable relievers down the stretch run. If Doug is unable to address the rotation holes this offseason, both will likely factor into a battle over a spot, but for the purposes of this post, I will assume they will be returning to the bullpen. Todd Coffey was a nice late season addition. He throws as hard as anyone and if he's ever able to control his stuff, the sky is the limit with Coffey. 

With free agent relief pitchers dropping like flies and the club held for ransom by the outstanding offer to CC Sabathia, it looks like the Brewers are going to have to build the bullpen from within or through trades and pulling players off the scrap heap. To me, the most important roles in the bullpen are the closer, setup man and lefty specialist. I will look at internal candidates as well as throw a few names of free agents and other (completely baseless) trade candidates. 

I'll start with the closer position... Internal Candidates: Coffey has some late inning experience and pitched very effectively for the Brewers in September, but as I mentioned before, Coffey was run out of Cincinnati due to control issues. McClung seems to be the best candidate to me. After refining his throwing motion to be a little less violent, Seth had plus control but can still reach back for the 94-96 mph heat.

External Candidates: As far as free agents are concerned, Kerry Wood is really the only name that I've heard linked with the Brewers at all. I doubt he is a viable option as he is looking for a deal for several years and might not be the best investment given the amount of money per year and his injury history. One name that I wouldn't mind seeing in a Brewers uniform is Trevor Hoffman. Likely only getting a one year deal, he could be an effective stopgap while the Brewers season Omar Aguilar or look to address the position down the road. Brian Fuentes would be an awesome addititon, but with the Mets interested in him, I don't see the Brewers winning a bidding war with New York. As far as trades, Jose Valverde's name has popped up as being available, but this seems unlikely as trades with players of that caliber rarely take place within the same division and with only one year until free agency, this doesn't seem like a good move. 

2009 prediction: McClung will be named closer.

Setup man internal candidates: Carlos Villanueva and David Riske seem to be the two most likely options for the position. I like Riske for the position as I believe Villanueva is better suited for the rotation or at least is better suited to a long relief/spot starter role as he is capable of eating up important innings. As long as Riske can stay healthy, I believe he is more than capable of maintaining leads for the Brewers next year.

External candidates: There are a number of good names on the free agent market including guys like Luis Ayala and Juan Cruz. While both would be intriguing signings, I believe that both will be priced outside of what the Brewers are willing to spend on relief pitching. One name that I see as a dark horse for Doug Melvin's 2009 reclamation project of the year. After missing the 2008 season with injury, Washington cut ties with their young star closer. 

2009 prediction: Doug Melvin takes a flyer on Cordero and he is utilized in a late inning, non-closing role. Depending on his performance, Cordero may be given the opportunity to close in 2010 and beyond.

And finally, the lefty specialist. Internal Candidates: Mitch Stetter ironed out some control issues and pitched some important innings in his September call-up. With Brian Shouse a free agent, I see Doug sticking with Stetter as he is a cheaper option who I believe can be as effective as Shouse if only put in a position to face lefties.

External Candidates: In regards to players I'd like to trade for, C.J. Wilson has long been a favorite of mine, but it seems unlikely the Rangers would give up on him as he is seen as a closer rather than a lefty specialist. On the free agent market, there's the experienced Guardado and another potential reclamation project in Alan Embree. However, for a lefty specialist, if Doug is willing to drop $2-3 million in the position, he might as well just bring back Shouse.

2009 prediction: In order to save payroll to address more pressing needs, Doug sticks with Stetter.

Coaching Decisions

The Brewers are not wasting much time in filling out their coaching vacancies. In a couple of unexpected (at least to me) moves, the Brewers have filled their Pitching Coach and Bench Coach positions. First up, Bill Castro is your (not-so)new Pitching Coach. After becoming a certainty like death and taxes, Bill Castro is back for another season in the Brewers organization, but he's getting a well-deserved promotion. Castro had become a mainstay in the Brewers bullpen, having served there for the past 17 seasons. As I mentioned in a previous posting, he has a great rapport with the Brewers pitchers, especially the latin-american players. It will be interesting to see his approach with the starters, having mainly coached players who would only see batters once per appearance. Obviously our rotation is far from being set, but I wonder if this decision moves Villanueva back into the mix for a rotation spot. Carlos struggled early on last season and it cost him his spot as a starter, but after moving to the bullpen, he became our most reliable reliever. How much of that was Maddux and how much was Castro remains to be seen, but the Brewers still seem to be pretty high on Villanueva as a starter. Castro is also the pitching coach for the Dominican Republic squad for the World Baseball Classic.

And now the Bench coach, Willie Randolph. The reason this move comes as a surprise is not because he's under-qualified or an unknown, far from it. It is surprising to me because he had already turned down a bench coach position in Washington, and there is still a managerial opening in Seattle. If you ask me which position of the three is most desirable, I don't blame Willie for choosing the Brewers, a young team that shows a lot of promise and has the greatest potential for success in the 2009 campaign. I feel very confident now with the coaching staff Doug has assembled, essentially having three managers in the dugout each with their own style and level of familiarity with the team and the league. So far I give Doug Melvin an A for preparing this team for the 2009 season. Let's see what he can do with the players.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Keeping Tabs on Jack Z

Word out of Seattle is that there is a manager position available and the process is going to begin shortly. Zdurencik says he has a list of 23 candidates, a bit of overkill, but a few favorites have floated to the surface. The obvious choice is Ned Yost. Besides being a manager for the past 5 years in Milwaukee, Ned also has experience working with young talent... Jack's young talent. While he wasn't the most popular figure around Milwaukee but Ned seems destined to get a second shot as a manger. Another name floated out there was Willie Randolph. Randolph had a similar experience as Yost this last year, but has no real connection to Zdurencik. The reason I'm mentioning Randolph is that Zdurencik was still with the Brewers at the time Randolph interviewed and he was able to sit in on the interview. Jack said he was very impressed by Randolph's professionalism. One last name is Lloyd McLendon. Brewers fans may remember him from his days with the Pirates and Jack Z and Lloyd go back to their days in Pittsburgh. Zdurencik has been quoted as using the word "proud" to describe how he felt about McLendon's work in the Pirates organization. I have now dedicated WAY too much time to a non-Brewers related topic, but I plan on keeping tabs on Jack to see how he develops as a GM.

Mike Cameron Rumblings

The biggest story for the Brewers to come out of the GM meetings surrounds the recently extended center fielder Mike Cameron. The Yankees are apparently extremely interested in Cameron even after the Brewers picked up his 2009 option. Word is that the Yankees are willing to part with Melky Cabrera and pitching. Cabrera had a disappointing 2008 season, however the Yankees held Cabrera in very high regard several years back, enough to force out Yankee-great Bernie Williams. Although I wouldn't deem Cabrera a failure and I believe he still has some upside, but not enough to be the centerpiece in the deal. In order for this deal to make sense, Phil Hughes or Ian Kennedy would have to be the "pitching" that the Yankees are willing to deal. They also have a prospect that can throw lefty and righty, but other than the novelty factor, he's not enough either. I don't see this deal going through because the Yankees have shown an unwillingness to part ways with Hughes and Kennedy in the past. The only way I see this as a possibility is if the Yankees sign three free agent starters. Three names that seem likely are Sabathia, Burnett and Pettitte. That would give the Yankees 7 or 8 legitimate starters, hence an ability to deal young talent. I will be keeping an eye on the situation and update as it develops.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Offseason Outlook: Third Base

With the exception of one year, third base has been a bit of a joke during the Doug Melvin regime. Wes Helms, Russell Branyan, Craig Counsell, an old Jeff Cirillo... do I need to continue? The lone bright spot (RoY Ryan Braun) was so awful on defense, the club had to shuffle their outfield just to find a position for him to play. Last year, the combined offensive production of the three man third base platoon was one of the worst in the National League. And the normally sure-handed Bill Hall committed 17 errors in 113 games with a fielding percentage of .939. Third base is a position that Doug Melvin will have to address in the offseason.
The incumbent: Bill Hall. With the departure of Craig Counsell and Russell Branyan to free agency, Bill Hall is the only player on the roster that saw time at third during the 2008 season. Since Hall's breakout year in 2006 when he hit 35 home runs with 85 RBI, Hall has been a huge disappointment. Some circles credit his offensive struggles to having to adjust to center field (2007) and then adjusting back to third base this year. And believe it or not, some attribute his struggles to being uncomfortable with contact lenses (I've never seen anyone have the training staff attend to their contacts more than him) and he plans to have Lasik surgery in the offseason. Regardless, if Bill Hall is going to be the guy in 2009, he needs to do some soul searching to find out what kind of player he is going to be.

2009 outlook: There has been some talk of moving JJ Hardy to allow room for budding star Alcides Escobar at shortstop, and the two most logical choices would be second or third base. I'm going to argue that the best position to move him to is third. He has limited range, which doesn't impair you at third, and a canon for an arm (extremely accurate as well) which is a key asset to a gold glove third baseman. JJ has also shown that he can consistently be a 20-25 home run producer, which would fit well in a position typically defined by power.

Another option is fellow top prospect Mat Gamel. Gamel tore apart pitching at Huntsville this year but fell off dramatically during the last 2 months of the season. Initially, I began to worry that pitchers had finally figured him out and he struggled to adapt. However, it was later revealed that Mat was struggling with right elbow tendinitis. Hopefully that injury played a part in his terrible defense as well. From all the reports and scouting that I've heard, Gamel does not struggle with gloving the ball, it's making the throw to first that is an issue. While I love Gamel's offensive production, if our starting rotation ends up being Gallardo, Parra, Suppan, Bush and McClung/Villanueva, we are going to need all the defense we can get to support this below average rotation. While Gallardo and Parra are big strikeout guys, Suppan puts the ball in play, Bush challenges hitters in the strike zone, and Parra has a tendency to walk a lot of batters as well. Moral of the story is our defense is going to have to bail out our pitchers more often than not and can not allow the opposition to get additional outs. In conclusion, Gamel is still a year+ away from being an everyday third baseman in MLB.

Free Agent of choice: Joe Crede. There are only two things that turn me off about Crede: Scott and Boras. But there are a couple of things working against Boras getting his client overpaid. First off, Crede has battled injuries over the past two years, limiting production even when he was on the field. A career .256 hitter, Crede isn't going to tear the cover off the ball but he has 25-30 home run potential and consistently puts together solid at-bats. He is also a very dependable third baseman. Also, with the signing of Crede, this would allow Hardy to slide over to second base which would vastly improve the overall defense of the infield. The other thing working against Crede is the economy. Bud Selig addressed GMs at the GM Meetings and warned them of the difficult economic times we live in. This will not affect top-tier free agents like Sabathia, Texiera and Burnett. But mid-level free agents, like Crede, will find that teams don't have rooms in their budget to give huge over-valued contracts. This could help the Brewers two-fold. A) They could get Crede at a reasonable price per year and B) Crede might be interested in a short term deal to prove that he can be healthy, and also get another shot at a max-contract when the economy turns around. While he may not be a gold glover or silver slugger, Crede just might be the best value on the market and is certainly an upgrade from Bill Hall and a more than adequate stop-gap at third until Gamel is ready.

Final Word: If no move is made, in either a trade or free agency, Hardy is the no-brainer choice at third. Though for the overall improvement of the team offensively but mainly defensively, I like our chances with Crede. Choice 1A: Crede, choice 1B: Hardy.
On Deck: The Bullpen

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Update on the Pitching Coach Spot

According to Ken Rosenthal at, Bill Castro will be given the first chance to interview with Macha, but Rick Peterson will not be considered. This is a curious move as he was the runner-up for the Texas job, given to ex-Brewers pitching coach Mike Maddux. One would think that being one of the most sought after pitching coaches and a history of working with the current manager in the past would give Peterson a leg up. Perhaps there was a rift between Macha and Peterson during their time in Oakland. There are only two men that can answer that question and it's doubtful that either will say word one on the matter.

Sidenote: In the same article, Rosenthal believes trading Prince Fielder is highly unlikely and I tend to agree. Just from a fan and marketing standpoint, Prince puts butts in seats and jerseys on fans. He's a rising star in the league and I believe the fact that Doug is "listening" to offers for Prince was just a ploy to see if someone would be desperate enough (Hank Steinbrenner) to sell the farm to get him. So unless we see another "Sexson for the entire D-Backs farm system" type deal, get used to seeing the portly slugger manning first base come 2009.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Replacing Mike Maddux

Mike Maddux informed the Brewers that he will be leaving the team for greener pastures... GREENer pastures, taking the pitching coach position with the Texas Rangers. Mike has been credited with many reclamation projects over the years including the likes of Dan Kolb, Derrick Turnbow and Matt Wise. The thing I will remember most about Maddux? His mustache, and the joy I got in watching him work that thing during a visit to the mound (do teams really still hire lip readers? I can tell you what is said in those meetings, "Throw strikes, get guys out") But in all seriousness, Mike has always been a stand up guy putting the players' achievements above his own accolades and I wish him the best in Texas. Now the Brewers need to look into a replacement. I'm going to throw a few names out there that you may or may not have already heard and what merits them getting a look.

Everyone seems to believe that Chuck Hernandez is the clear frontrunner. While Hernandez has had some great success developing young pitchers like Justin Verlander, Jeremy Bonderman and Nate Robertson, he hit a bit of a rough patch this year. The Detroit Tigers finish 12th in the AL in team ERA in a terribly disappointing 2008 campaign which ended up costing Hernandez his job. The lone bright spot: Armando Galarraga who went 13-7 with a 3.73 ERA.

Doug Melvin also stated that he will give a chance to Bill Castro as well. A mainstay in the Brewers organization, Bill Castro has been very successful in working with the guys in the bullpen, getting them to understand the situations they're in and prepare them for the hitters they will face. The team knows Castro, which is a big plus, and he has built a great rapport with the team's Latin American players, but due to his lack of experience (which seems to be the buzz word in the Brewers front office) at the pitching coach position, this "interview" seems to be a mere formality.

I'm going to throw a couple other less talked about names: Leo Mazzone and Rick Peterson. Peterson has worked with Macha in Oakland which would seemingly give him the inside track. He has a history developing good pitchers into great pitchers: see Barry Zito, Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson and John Maine. It was the Mets bullpen that was Peterson's undoing. After blowing more saves and big leads than Derrick Turnbow, Peterson paid the price alongside Willie Randolph. Given Melvin's track record for piecing together solid bullpens and Castro's ability to own the player's performance out there, Peterson would seemingly thrive in Milwaukee.

And finally, my favorite, Leo Mazzone. The fact that this man does not have a job is a crime against the game of baseball. Alongside Bobby Cox, Mazzone mentored three Hall-of-Famers in Smoltz, Maddux and Glavine. I've been comparing these three to Gallardo, Villanueva and Parra for some time now to anyone who would listen and I generally get laughed at, but if you compare their numbers at this point in their career and you look at their approach and stuff, this isn't so far fetched. Under the tutelage of Mazzone, this young pitching staff could be something special. Time will tell, but I like the fact that new blood is being injected into the Brewers coaching staff, regardless of who is chosen.

Cameron's Option/ Offseason Outlook

This week's Offseason Outlook comes a bit prematurely on the news that Mike Cameron's $10 million option has been exercised for the 2009 season. Due to some unrealistic expectations set by some Brewers fans, reaction to his performance in 2008 has been mixed. There's a lot of chatter suggesting that Mike Cameron didn't live up to his gold glove status, saying that he misplayed a lot of balls in some key situations which don't translate to errors on paper. While I agree that he misplayed some balls, that is going to come with the territory in center field. I think the average Milwaukee fan's inexperience in watching elite defensive center fielders has created this requirement that any ball hit between left center and right center should automatically be snagged by Cameron. They are allowed to make mistakes and they can't reach every ball. What make a player elite is their ability to make the extraordinary play look pedestrian, and watching Cameron for 120 games convinced me that he's still one of the top five centerfielders in the game. Dave Cameron over at agrees and argues that Cameron was the best free agent signing of last years offseason.

This seemingly cements the Brewers 2009 out field with Braun, Cameron and Hart, there is some talk of a sign and trade with the Yankees coming out of the four letter network (I don't subscribe to their network as I believe information should be freely shared). That rumor notwithstanding the Brewers seem to have improved by staying the same, if that makes any sense. You know what you're going to get out of Cameron, and Hart has been a rock in right field and continues to improve. The biggest area of improvement is going to come from the other corner. Ryan Braun took great strides into becoming an outfielder this year, with a full year of playing the position under his belt and another year under the watchful eye of Sedar, Braun seems to be on track to take his defense to the next level.

While I was hoping the Brewers would be able to save a little payroll by declining the option on Cameron and address some other needs of the team (a left-handed bat, leadoff hitter and base stealing threat, all a possibility out of the center field position), I believe that exercising Cameron's option was a good move. With a full season under his belt, it's not unrealistic to see 25-30 homers and 75-90 RBI (depending on his spot in the order) to come out of Cameron. He's going to strikeout, always has and always will, but he sees a lot of pitches and rarely gives you a bad at-bat. This young team can learn from his experience and from what I've heard, a lot of the players have grown fond of having Cameron in the clubhouse. Welcome back Cam!

On Deck, pinch hitting for Center Field: Third Base

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Offseason Outlook: Second Base

The Brewers have a few question marks to address this offseason. Arguably the biggest decision is our future at second base as it has been an offensive and defensive liability over the the past 4 years.

The incumbent: Rickie Weeks. When speaking to Brewers fans about Rickie Weeks, two words invariably come up: potential and disappointment. Coming out of college, Rickie had a lot of tools and a lot of upside. The 2003 Golden Spikes award winner, Rickie was drafted second overall by the Brewers just after Delmon Young and ahead of players like John Danks, Paul Maholm and Conor Jackson. While Rickie has shown flashes, injuries and inconsistency have plagued his career. Subpar defense and an inability to get on-base out of the leadoff spot has thrown Rickie out of favor with many Brewers fans.

2009 outlook: Many national pundits view this as an area of need and I can't say that I disagree however the Brewers do not have any major prospects waiting in the wings and the second base free agent class is not inspiring. While Orlando Hudson is available, he will price himself out of the Brewers plans. After Hudson, you see names like Ray Durham, Mark Grudzielanek, Tad Iguchi and Mark Loretta. While most will be an upgrade on defense, none of those names can be seen as a savior for the Brewers.

As far as prospects are concerned, Hernan Iribarren has experience at second base in the minors, but judging by the numbers he has put up at AAA and from what I've seen in limited time up with the Brewers, Hernan is far from ready to be an everyday player in the majors. There has been some talk of bringing up top prospect Alcides Escobar and sliding Hardy over to second or third. If the move is to second, this upgrades the range at shortstop but with Hardy's canon of an arm and limited range, a move to third seems to make more sense. Not to mention, the all-star shortstop would have to consent to a position change and could upset the clubhouse.

Finally, a trade is always an option but can be difficult to do without creating another hole at a different position. Brian Roberts is the sexy name out there right now, but word out of Baltimore is they would like to keep him long-term but may consider a trade if an extension can not be made. The only problem with this is the Orioles seem to be looking for a shortstop, which is a position of depth, but I can't see the Brewers giving up an all-star (Hardy) or a top prospect (Escobar) unless Roberts is willing to sign long-term with the Brewers.

Final Word: I'm going to make the case that Rickie Weeks may be the best option for the Brewers going into the 2009 season. Given his below average performance, he is going to be relatively cheap coming out of arbitration, allowing the Brewers to allocate financial resources to other positions of need. Also, I know Brewers fans are tired of hearing that he's going to break through, but you don't hit .490+ and slug .980+ in college by accident. I believe that if the Brewers bring Escobar up to play short and slide Hardy to third, this would give the Brewers a better option at leadoff in Escobar, allowing Weeks to move down in the lineup and utilize his power more effectively. We'll have to see what Doug Melvin has up his sleeves. On Deck: Center Field

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Breaking Down Macha

Ken Macha is the man who is going to lead this team in '09. The guy is a proven winner and at one point was the most sought after managing prospect in all of Major League Baseball. Yet the people of Milwaukee are not sold on him. Listening to people's reactions on the radio and reading people's posts on various blogs, everyone seems to think we are getting a second rate guy, why?

The argument is out there that he alienated his players in his final year in Oakland, and people are afraid he is not going to gel with our guys. I have spent this entire year (minus 12 games) listening to people complain about how Ned Yost is too buddy-buddy with the players, that they want someone to come in and crack the whip. Now we've got a guy that can do that, and everyone wants him to be Ned Yost!! In four years at Oakland, Macha's squad went 368-280 with two playoff appearances and one run to the ALCS. His WORST season was an 88-74 record back in '05 and still people have not embraced him as our manager.

Being a fan of the book Moneyball, by Michael Lewis, and seeing a small-market club succeed in this league where money buys wins, I paid a lot of attention to what the Oakland A's did in the first half of this decade. Now granted, a lot of the success has to do with moves and drafts made by Billy Beane, but someone needed to take that raw talent and turn it into wins, that man was Ken Macha. Ultimately, the 2006 A's ran into the bandsaw that was the Detroit Tigers and were simply outclassed, which unfortunately cost Ken his job. He deserves a lot of credit for taking a group of young and unproven players and turning them into winners.

I understand that he did not coach pitching for the A's in 2003, but he oversaw the development of Zito, Mulder and Hudson. A pretty lethal and young rotation, if we can get Gallardo, Parra and Villanueva to be mentioned in the same sentence as the Oakland trio, the Brewers rotation will be just fine.